Havana ( Associated Press) – The US embassy in Havana has resumed visa processing for Cuba, on a limited basis, more than four years after it halted consular services on the island amid tightening ties. The resumption comes as a number of Cubans are trying to immigrate to the United States illegally.
A State Department official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that US officials in Havana will currently process visa requests from Cubans who are parents of US citizens. The future will evaluate the expansion of services to others.
The official, who was not authorized to be named, said the US government decided to process only visa requests from this group because of “unique age, health and mobility challenges for this category of applicants.”
Any other applicant must apply for a visa through the US embassy in Guyana, as they have done since 2018, when the administration of former President Donald Trump withdrew embassy staff from Havana.
Operations at the US embassy in Cuba began to decline in 2017 after reports of unexplained health problems among some employees, known as “Havana Syndrome” and a major issue during the Trump administration.
Trump increased sanctions against the Caribbean island, from revoking permits to send remittances, to penalties for companies from third countries operating in Cuba, to limits on flights and oil tankers bound for Cuba.
The sanctions affected the rapprochement between the US and Cuba initiated by former President Barack Obama.
President Joe Biden promised to relax the tough measures, but so far it has not happened.
Visa processing resumed in Havana less than two weeks after the highest-level diplomatic talks in four years focused on migration between the US and Cuba.
The State Department said the talks covered areas of successful cooperation on migration, but also identified barriers to ensuring safe, orderly and legal migration.
US border officials reported last month that the number of people entering Cuba had doubled to 32,500 from February to March, and is now five times the number in October.